Courtesy of Nate Taylor
Question: What are your overall thoughts on the season at the midway point?
Bird: “I think it took a little bit longer than I thought it would to come together. We’ve had stretches where we’ve played really well. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed in how we’re playing on the road. At the beginning of the year, I thought that if we come together, we can probably win a lot more games than we have so far. Overall, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. It’s just that I know going forward that we’ve got to continue to get better and get (Rodney) Stuckey healthy and see what we’ve got.”
Q: The new collective bargaining agreement was signed Thursday. What are your overall thoughts on where the league is going and some of the changes that have been made?
Bird: “It’s a little bit different. What it comes down to, basically, is that the guys are going to get paid a lot more money and you have a better opportunity to keep your own free agents. It leads to smaller markets having an opportunity to do that if they’re willing to pay the money. There’s some changes in there that we like and some we don’t like, but that’s collective bargaining. I think the Commissioner (Adam Silver) and the players got together and they did a deal that they felt was fair to both sides. That’s always good.”
Q: What are the changes that you see as favorable to the Pacers?
Bird: “Well, if you want to keep your free agents, you’re going to have an opportunity to, at least, I think, have a better chance of keeping them. If a player don’t want to be here, and he wants to go somewhere else, that’s just a part of free agency. That’s what’s in the collective bargaining for. But at least you have an opportunity to pay them a little bit more and give them an extra year and be able to keep them and sign them up earlier. I think that’s a plus. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’ve read that thing inside and out because that’s what Peter (Dinwiddie) is for. We feel that there’s some advantages and the disadvantage is that we’ve got to spend the money. That’s something we’ve got to decide as a franchise, how far we’re going to go.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Paul George’s upcoming free agency and the possibility of offering the extra sixth year if he’s named to the All-NBA team?
Bird: “I don’t want to get into Paul’s free agency. Before the year started, I told Paul and I said, ‘Look, if you want to sign a long-term deal, we’re willing to do that max (contract) and if you want to wait, I understand.’ But this year, we’re not going to worry about it, we’re not going to talk about it and he’s going to make the decision that’s best for Paul when it comes down to it.”
Q: Do you see any changes in the new collective bargaining agreement having any impact on George’s free agency or is your position still the same in terms of offering him the max, whether it’s five years or six years?
Q: You’ve mentioned in the past how you want to score more points and you’ve made a lot of moves in the offseason to get the offense to be better than previous years under coach Frank Vogel. What are your assessments of the team’s offense?
Bird: “Well, you can always get better. I think my biggest beef with the team is winning on the road and pounding the basketball. I said earlier I think the last time I talked to you guys is that one of the things I worry about is that we’ve got a lot of ball pounders. If you move the basketball and everybody gets a touch, you’re going score a lot more points. This goes back three years ago when I said this league is changing and the rules have changed. Teams are shooting more 3s and they’re going to continue to shoot more 3s and the scoring is going to go up. If you don’t try to hold pace, I don’t care how good of a defensive team you are, you better score points or you’re not going to have a chance to win. I feel that way and that’s my philosophy and I think scoring is going to continue to go up year after year. You’ve got some teams right now shooting 20-25 3s, some shooting 30-35 and there’s teams shooting in the 40s. Two, three years from now, I think everybody is going to be shooting 40 3s a game. The scoring is going to go up and you better be on pace with it.”
Q: You promoted Nate McMillan as head coach in the offseason. How would assess what McMillan has done through 41 games?
Bird: “Well, it’s going to be hard for me sit here and tell you. I like Nate. I liked him when I hired him. But anything I say positive about Nate, you’re going to take it as a negative to Frank (Vogel), and that’s not what it’s about. I like Frank. Frank did a hell of a job here. We wish him all the best. We made a lot of changes over the last two or three years, even when Frank was here. We changed a lot of guys on the roster. With Nate came in, we changed coach and a lot of guys on the roster. We’d like to get away from that and have guys longer term and have a team that he can build with and grow with as we go forward.”
Q: Are you pleased with the way McMillan has tried to hold players accountable in trying to get them to play hard every night?
Bird: “I’m pleased with Nate. I’ve always admired Nate as a coach and as a person and I think he’s a great fit for us. I thought Frank was great for us while he was here. He did a lot great things and had some success. Now, it’s a different time and it’s Nate’s turn.”
Q: What has surprised you most this season?
Bird: “That it took us longer to come together than I anticipated, knowing that we weren’t going to be a top-1o defensive team. We want to keep our pace up. You get rid of George Hill and (Ian) Mahinmi and you know you’re going to lose something on the defensive end. It’s hard to compare, but George Hill is a hell of a basketball player and he was great for us. But Jeff Teague is a different type of player. He can make plays and score the basketball and he can get to the foul line. It’s just a different team and a different look. I want to score points and our bench has been struggling at times. Some nights are decent and a little streaky. But overall, if you need a basket we know we can go to big Al (Jefferson) and maybe he can get it for us. I think the guys are still learning one another. I’ve never played on teams where I thought it would take this long for guys to really mesh. They’re starting to play better. I think they’ll continue to get better. Obviously, our schedule is going to be tougher from here on out. That’s just part of it. We should be better as a team.
Q: How do you think Paul George has performed with his growing responsibility of being a leader?
Bird: “Here’s the thing with Paul that I was concerned about. He came off a horrific injury, he came back last year, in his first year back, and went straight to the Olympics and he comes into this season with a whole new group of guys and a new coach. There’s a lot on his shoulders. I’m not saying pressure, it’s just a lot of change and a lot of different things. Mentally, I think he’s a little worn down. Physically I don’t think he is. He’s got his bumps and bruises. I just think it’s been a tough go for him there in a short period of time. Now, do I think he’ll get better as the year goes on? Hell yeah he will. I think we’ll get to the All-Star break and he gets time to relax a little bit and reflect on the first half of the season, I think he’s going to have a monster end of the year. He’s just that good of a player.”
Q: Do you see George developing has a leader?
Bird: “Oh yeah, you can tell. They look at him and they watch him. The one thing about being the guy is they’re going to watch your every move, so if you say, you better do it. I think Paul’s learned over the years that these guys are watching him and they are following his lead. They are. That’s how it works.”
Q: Have you OK with were the team is in terms of its defensive performance?
Bird: “I know that you’ve got to defend. You definitely got to defend at times and I think as the year goes on well get better. We’ll never be where we want to be, but I’ve got to say that I’m disappointed in it. Just like the other night (against Sacramento) in the first half I thought they were giving in too much. They were parting the red sea when (DeMarcus) Cousins got the ball. In the second half, they showed a little toughness and fought him and come together on the defensive end to get them back in the game. You know you’ve got to play some defense at some time, but this league is going to be a scoring league and it reminds me back of when I came in that you better score the ball or you’re going to be left in the dust. Scoring is always going to be a big premium in this league, especially with the 3-point shot. But you’ve still got to defend to win games.”
Q: How do you think Monta Ellis has handled his reduced role coming off the bench?
Bird: “Glenn (Robinson III) hasn’t been as consistent as I think as he or we would like, but the numbers don’t lie. When he plays, we do better. Monta, I’m not going to say he’ll ever accept the role of coming off the bench because that’s his mentality. But the thing is he’s going to do whatever it takes for us to win basketball games and he’ll continue to get better. I think when (Rodney) Stuckey gets back, I think that’s going to help. I think he gives us a big boost. But as far as Monta, I think Monta is going to do whatever he thinks will help us win basketball games. Monta knows I have respect for him and I have respect for all veterans. We’re going to do what’s right by him and we want him to be a big part of this, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.”
Q: What are your impressions of Myles Turner in year two?
Bird: “Well, he’s 20 years old. You forget the fact that he’s a young man playing in a men’s league. I always say throwing that kid out there – what I did to him this year – is really unheard of. His body is not mature for where it’s going to be in a couple years. You’re our starting center. Go out and get Dwight Howard. That’s a tough assignment. The other night, playing against DeMarcus (Cousins), probably the best big man in the league. Them are tough chores, but the kid don’t back down. He plays hard. He works hard. He wants to be great. He’s going to be great. To me, I think he’s got a chance to be one of the best players or maybe the best player (in the franchise’s history). You’ve still Paul with a bunch of time left, too, and you had Reggie (Miller) here with all the other great ones. But being a 20-year-old and doing what this kid is doing just blows my mind. The sky is the limit. He’s still playing with Paul George and Paul gets a little frustrated at him at times, but night in and night out that kid battles you. With his work ethic, his desire, his mentality to be great, I think the future is unbelievable for that young man. Paul’s going to be the main guy. Let’s make that very clear. Paul is the guy, but in saying that, this young man, as he gets older and matures and continues to work like he works, he’s going to be a deadeye shooter. He’s a relentless worker and if you’ve got talent like that and you work as hard as he does, you’re going to get better. He’s body hasn’t come close to maturing like it’s going to. For what we did, to just throw him in there and say good luck, he’s done remarkable.”
Q: Was that the plan to have Turner be the starting center this year or did that happen base on what occurred in the offseason?
Bird: “My plan the whole time last year was to get him in there. I told him before the year started last year, I said, ‘I want to see how good you are at the All-Star break because you should be making your way and getting in there and starting and doing things.’ He got injured and we didn’t know. Finally, I remember me and Frank (Vogel) having this conversation after a few practices and I said, ‘Frank, what do you think?’ He said, ‘You think he’s ready?’ I said, ‘We’ve got to play this kid.’ He goes, ‘I agree with you 100 percent.’ He got his free wet last year and this year just throw him in there and go get them. He’s done pretty (expletive) good. He’s 20 years old. I couldn’t imagine doing that at 20 years old in this league.”
Q: Is how far the team progresses this year largely dependent on how Turner improves?
Bird: “The more he plays, the better he gets. That’s not just him. That’s with Glenn (Robinson III) and some of the other guys, too. Everybody has to. You can’t just put on one guy. We can’t put it on Paul all the time. Everybody else has got to step up. In the last 15 games, Jeff Teague has come around and shown us what he can do. Everybody’s got to pick it up. If they do, they’ll have a good year.
Q: In trading for Teague, you mentioned you wanted his time in Indiana to be a long-term situation, not just a one-year deal. Has he proven that you would still like to re-sign him in the offseason?
Bird: “We like Jeff. We like Jeff very much. We hope he’s a part of this franchise for a long time.”
Q: How do you think Teague has adjusted to the Pacers and what his feelings are toward the organization?
Bird: “I don’t know how he feels about it. I hear he likes to be back home. I hear he always wanted to play here. We gave up a hell of a player to get him. He’s two years younger than George and he’s a real point guard and he gets to the line. I think he’s going to continue to get better. I couldn’t be happier. He got off to a slow start, but he’s pick it up and I think he feels comfortable out there. I think he loves playing with the guys and Myles is getting a lot better looks now than he has in the past and Paul is getting some isolations in the middle of the court that’s playing to his strengths. I think it’s a pretty good combination.”
Q: Much of the topic of the trade deadline is generated by fans and the media. For this particular group, do you feel there’s a trade to be made before the deadline?
Bird: “We always listen and talk to other teams. If we can do something, we’ll do it. But I don’t think we’re in a hurry just to make a deal to make a deal. We do have our draft pick. We’ve been a team that if we can get the right guy, we would entertain maybe moving our pick. Other teams like that. They’ll love to hear it if you write it. We’re not stressed here to do anything right now. I just think we’ve got to come together and we’ve got to have guys to play a little bit better and move the ball and score points and take care of the other end. If we do that, we should have a pretty good little year, you know?”
Q: The team has the same record at the midway point 22-19 as you did last year. Are you more optimistic that this year’s team is trending in the better direction than the team from a year ago?
Bird: “I don’t know. I like it better because we’re scoring more points. Obviously, we’re not defending like we were, but we don’t have (Ian) Mahinmi or George Hill, so when you give them two guys up you know you’re going to lose something. I like our team. I can’t complain too much other than the slow start and not winning on the road. If we win some games on the road, we’re going to be fine, but you’ve got to win them. You have to go out and compete and you’ve got be the instigators in the room instead of the retaliators. If they do that, with that mindset, they’ll win they’re share of games. I can’t complain too much because I’ve seen a difference from the beginning to now and you always want to see an improvement.”
Q: What else jumps out to you about the team?
Bird: “Al (Jefferson) is Al and Al is going to do what Al does. I think C.J. Miles, I’d like to get him more involved and get him going earlier. Whatever we have to do to get him going. I think he’s a hell of a player and I think we can use him, not from a coach’s standpoint, but when he’s on the court try to find him more because if you get him rolling that’s a whole different ball game out there for that second unit. We need them to take some pressure off the starters. If the starters come out and play well, they have to come in and maintain the lead instead of giving it up early. I think one of the problems we’ve had this year is when (Rodney) Stuckey got hurt it really hurt us. I think he’s a good enough player to help maintain some of the leads we’ve had with the second unit. He gets foul and he makes shots. He’s just a tough cookie and we miss him out there.”
Q: What are you hoping to see in the next stretch of games?
Bird: “Just be more consistent. Keep our ball movement and stay together. We’re not going to win all the games, but we should win our share of them. Just going into the All-Star break on a high note because the second half of the year, the last 30 games, are going to be a grind. I think with Paul getting some rest and Myles getting a little bit of rest over the All-Star break with Jeff and them, I think they’ll be ready to go. That’s what I’m hoping.”